For almost 1000 years, the Dordogne was a key territory for the entire medieval period. Between Catholics and Protestants, lordships and the kingdom of France, feudalism and chivalry, Périgord was at the heart of all these issues, which partly explains its reputation as a region with 1001 castles.

Some key moments from this era and some vestiges still visible

À Périgueux, history is written in stone and the city had its golden age in the Middle Ages. If you take rue Limogeanne, you will walk on the arrival route of the pilgrims from Compostela. Under Saint-Front Cathedral, the 12th century crypts have not moved. Collections of ancient objects await you at the Vésunna Museum, built around a vast Gallo-Roman villa. During the Gallo-Roman period Vesunna was a monumental capital (it is today the southern district of the city of Périgueux), then the Visigoths occupied the territory.

From the 6th century, the first bishops created the diocese of Périgueux
with a network of churches and abbeys.

Saint-Amand de Coly or Saint-Avit-Sénieur are both an abbey and a real fortress with a complex defense system.

Beynac chateau_fevrier2023©ALR (6)

The first counties of Périgord appeared at the end of the 7th century.

The formidable imprint of castles on the landscape dates from their time.

On the basis of territorial divisions, 4 baronies appear:
Beynac, Biron, Bourdeilles, Mareuil.

Vikings in Périgord!

In the 19th century, the valleys of the Isle and the Dordogne as well as Périgueux were devastated by the Normans. Many residents find refuge in the Cluseaux: Roque Saint-Christophe, Madeleine, the Conquil and all those visible the Iong of the Vézère river. In the Vézère valley, the Roque Saint-Christophe was built in the 10th century by Frotaire, bishop of Périgueux to block the way for the Vikings who were going up the river. These troglodytic habitats served as a refuge for millennia for various populations.

At this same time, Sarlat was born and built around a Benedictine abbey which was initially just a convent, surrounded by a few houses belonging to the counts of Périgord. Later, it gained its independence and became prosperous but the city also suffered attacks from Scandinavian invasions. Elements of Romanesque art have nevertheless survived the centuries: the porch tower, the lantern of the dead, the Saint-Benoît chapel.

And Périgord became English

From 12th century the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine with Henri II Plantagenet gives Périgord to the English. The country, occupied militarily, saw numerous fortresses built most often along large rivers such as the Dordogne. It became the border between the Plantagenêt territory and the territory of the King of France. In 1152, the north and south of the department were divided: North loyal to the King of France, South to the English.

In the 13th century, the birth of bastides founded by the king of France, that of England or by the counts of Périgord. The site is chosen based on its location and the military role that will be entrusted to it. The architectural plan is always the same: a rectilinear plan with ramparts, a square surrounded by arcades. Monpazier is the best example.

The golden age of the Templars and religious orders

The Templars and the Hospitallers, the two main military orders of medieval Christianity, also left their marks on this war-torn region. They acquired so much wealth and influence that the religious authorities suppressed them in 1312. A Templar tower remains visible at Sergeac and a set of buildings, having belonged to the Hospitallers, is visible in Condat sur Vézère. HAS Dumb, a guide accompanies you for the iconographic reading of the graffiti engraved on the towers where they were imprisoned... Many mysteries remain.

Domme©Dordogne Libre

Even though Middle ages was, in Périgord, a time troubled by numerous wars, the weather was not conducive to large construction projects. Romanesque churches were built in the middle of the 13th century at a time when, in the North of France, large Gothic cathedrals were being built. But this style had little echo in Périgord. We thought more about defending ourselves as if paunat or to Saint-Amand de Coly where the walls reach impressive heights. Our churches were fortified like our castles. This speaks to the ferocity of medieval times in the region. 

Medieval castles in Périgord Noir

In the Vézère valley

The Dordogne is renowned for its 1001 castles, the Vézère valley is a perfect example. The villages are full of medieval residences, from the simple dwelling house to the manor house of yesteryear as well as numerous private castles dating in part from medieval times.

Commarque castle

A medieval castle, forgotten fortress: Commarque

Commarque is located in the prestigious setting of the Beune valley, in Sireuil. It is a remarkable medieval fortified complex well hidden in the forest and that’s what makes it so charming.
A occupation of the site much older than the Middle Ages. Inhabited since prehistoric times, it houses, below its imposing ruins, a cave which has been frequented several times since the Paleolithic by Magdalenian hunters. For conservation reasons it is not open to the public but photographs exhibited in a room of the dungeon give a good overview of the works in this cavity.
The prehistoric habitat was regularly occupied even in the Middle Ages. At the foot of the castle, troglodyte dwellings probably dug around the 9th or 10th centuries provide the starting point for the visit.

This is the story of Périgord that is being told to you!

Au XNUMXth century the castle was built by the Commarque family near a source and given to the Templars. It became a commandery but with the disappearance of the order, the Hospitallers of Saint-Jean of Jerusalem took it back, erected a keep then sold the fortress to Baron de Beynac. The Commarque family must then cohabit with a younger branch of the Beynacs: 6 families (lordships) will then jointly own Commarque. Together, they remain the faithful defenders of the crown of France and fight against the invaders: the English ! It's the Hundred Years' War! The castle will eventually pass under English rule for 6 months. But after the redemption of its freedom, the Commarque family will chase the English from Sarladais and Pons de Commarque will become the most powerful lord of Périgord. As a reward for his loyalty, he will receive from Charles VII the countryside castle.

Au 15th and 16th centuries, the residence became a den of bandits then definitively abandoned in the 18th century, it fell into ruin a century later.

Today returned to the Commarque family, the castle can be visited, inspires artists, becomes a filming location. For more than forty years Hubert de Commarque has dedicated his life to this site classified as a Historic Monument and visitors are full of praise for this jewel of our Perigord heritage restored with such ardor.

In the Dordogne valley

The postcard image of the Dordogne! The Dordogne valley, just a few dozen minutes from Montignac-Lascaux, Le Bugue or Limeuil, has two of the most renowned medieval castles in France: Castelnaud and Beynac.

The castles of Castelnaud et Beynac were built at the time of the Norman invasions. The two rivals face each other with the Dordogne river as its only border. They transformed and expanded to defend themselves. At the end of the 12th century, Beynac was the seat of Richard the Lionheart, also that of Simon de Montfort. A place of fighting during the Hundred Years' War, Beynac was French while Castelnaud was English. 

Both are located near a village, on a natural mound or limestone spur 150 meters above the river, to see, from afar, the attackers arrive. We note for each powerful crenellated walls, curtain walls (a few fragments for Castelnaud) with circular towers to better protect the keep and a very high wall to prevent assault by ladders. 

Breathtaking panoramas and fortified enclosures!

What is the most beautiful castle in Dordogne?

Most of our castles do not have a single style and are from different periods. This is also what makes them charming!
The marks of these architectural transformations are clearly visible. Any is an example: it is the result of 8 centuries of construction. As for Montfort, Fénelon or Bourdeilles, they were built to withstand war machines or sieges. After the ravages of war, the great castle madness begins. Many castles were built without apparent concern for defense, the lords attached more importance to aesthetics: the painted ceiling at the Château de Bourdeilles, the decorated walls at Puymartin, the sculpted windows at Puyguilhem... But what about Loose, Puymartin, Les Bories, Puyguilhem, Marzac, Les Milandes… which display a decor of great finesse? Each one has its own appeal and particularities!

If you participate in “Castles in Festival” organized by the Dordogne Departmental Tourism Committee you may have to make choices. Every year, in spring, the event allows you to visit many homes which open their doors and offer unique activities. The opportunity to know the history of each owner and to better immerse yourself in the place.

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